U.S. news was dominated in 2016 by the presidential election and Republican nominee Donald Trump’s rise to the top, but a variety of other stories also captured the fascination of readers on Checkpoint, The Washington Post’s military site.
The stories range from tales of misdeeds at home to analysis of weapons used on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria. They also include inspiring stories about Americans who used their training to help others, and assessments of what the future U.S. military might look like.
Here are the Top 15 stories on Checkpoint in 2016. A footnote: Several significant stories about the military were published on other parts of The Washington Post’s website, and thus are not counted here. They include breaking news early in December that retired Marine Gen. James Mattis has been nominated to be Trump’s secretary of defense, and a long-form story that explored Trump’s popularity among rank-and-file veterans.
15. What it looks like when Russian jets fly ‘dangerously close’ to a Navy ship
A pattern of aggressive behavior by the Russian military this year prompted several rebukes from the Pentagon, but none captured the attention of readers quite like the April buzzing of the USS Donald Cook by a Russian attack jet.
The destroyer, traveling in the Baltic Sea, was passed no more than a few hundred feet away several times. Sailors captured photos and video of the incidents, and the Navy distributed them to show exactly what happened.
“We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers,” European Command said at the time. “These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death.”
14. Navy analysis found that a Marine’s case would draw attention to Afghan ‘sex slaves’
A revelation emerged in September about the controversial case of Maj. Jason Brezler, who has fought to stay in the Marine Corps for years after mishandling classified information to warn colleagues in Afghanistan about a potential insider threat. Documents disclosed in federal court showed that when the Navy Department reviewed whether to toss out a Marine Corps decision to involuntarily discharge him, it also assessed that giving the case another look would renew attention on the scandal surrounding child sex abuse in Afghanistan.
The Navy Department ultimately decided to let Brezler’s discharge stand, but a federal judge decided in December to throw out the decision, citing the Marine Corps’ failure to follow rules providing all relevant information about the case through the discovery process. Brezler’s case also drew significant attention in July, after his lawyer said that he would use Hillary Clinton’s email case to fight his separation.
13. How a heroic Marine’s training helped save dozens in the Orlando attack
People read with interest the story of Imran Yousuf, a recent Marine veteran whose quick thinking helped saved dozens of people from injury in an attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that killed 49 people.
Yousuf, who left the Marine Corps as a sergeant in May, credited his recognition of gunshots for helping him to rush people out of the way. He was working as a bouncer at Pulse at the time of the June 12 attack.
12. This futuristic fighter jet was just unveiled to America during the Super Bowl
With a splashy ad during the Super Bowl, Northrop Grumman grabbed the attention of readers with video of its conceptual sixth-generation fighter jet. The aircraft, still in development, is shown darting across the sky in a three-jet formation, and has an unusual design that includes no tail.
The plane is expected to carry laser guns for weapons, but analysts have noted that one of the most complicated parts of development will be incorporating them in a way where the gun’s heat does not give it away on radar.
11. Drill instructors accused of running a dryer with a Muslim recruit inside
A scandal at the Marine Corps’ boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., drew attention after an investigation found that a Muslim Marine said he was called a terrorist and ordered into an industrial-size clothes dryer multiple times by a drill instructor who then turned it on.
The allegation is part of a broad scandal at the recruit training center that could result in 20 Marines facing court-martial or administrative punishment. It emerged after Raheel Siddiqui, 20, a recruit with Pakistani roots, died after leaping from a stairwell landing at Parris Island in March after a drill instructor slapped him, the investigation found.
Court proceedings in the scandal are expected to begin in January.
10. Citing cost, Trump says Boeing contract for Air Force One should be canceled
Trump’s penchant for making news on Twitter includes an example this month in which he said that the contract for the next Air Force One, the plane that carries the president, should be canceled because of the high costs.
Within weeks, Trump met with the chief executive for Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the main contractor for the F-35 fighter jet. He said that Boeing had promised to keep down the costs on Air Force One, but that it was too soon to know if that would be the case with the F-35.
9. U.S. aircraft carriers’ ‘unchallenged primacy’ may be coming to a close
A report published in February by the Center for a New American Security drew attention after claiming that the Navy’s carrier force was at an inflection point, primarily sounding an alarm on the threat posed by Chinese development of long-range anti-ship missiles.
The report discussed potential countermeasures to the threat, including the Navy’s railgun project, but also suggested the Pentagon putting money into other systems such as submarines and long-range carrier-based drones.
8. The story behind the ‘American Dream’ photo at U.S. Military Academy that went viral
The photograph of Army 2nd Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache, a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., rocketed around the Internet in the spring and connected with readers. The new officer was depicted at his commencement ceremony with tears rolling down his cheeks, overcome with emotion.
Idrache, a Haitian immigrant, worked his way through one of the nation’s most prestigious military schools after immigrating to the United States from Haiti, earning his citizenship and serving for two years as an enlisted soldier with the Maryland Army National Guard, according to Army records. He reported to flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., shortly afterward.
7. The gun the Orlando shooter used was a Sig Sauer MCX, not an AR-15. That doesn’t change much.
In the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said the gunman’s weapons included a pistol and an “AR-15-type assault rifle,” something that drew close scrutiny considering the debate about guns in modern society.
Within days, Orlando police clarified that the rifle used wasn’t actually an AR-15, as widely reported, but a Sig Sauer MCX that had different internal characteristics, but performed the same mission. Most AR-15-style rifles fire rounds through a function called “direct impingement,” while the MCX has a gas-piston system.
The above video grabbed the attention of readers because it showed one of the oddities of the war in Syria: U.S.-made TOW missiles getting launched at a modern Russian T-90 tank. It was unclear from the video whether Russian or Syrian troops were in the vehicle.
5. Here’s what an advanced Russian tank looks like after getting hit with a U.S.-made missile
The photo highlighted here shows a tank after a U.S.-made TOW missile hits a Russian tank. The weapon, as this piece noted, has been used widely in Syria by rebels since the Central Intelligence Agency provided them in spring 2014.
4. The admiral in charge of Navy intelligence has not been allowed to see military secrets for years
This story explored one fallout of the Navy’s still-widening scandal involving Glenn Defense, a Singapore-based maritime contractor that authorities say supplied bribes and prostitutes to Navy personnel for years in exchange for secrets that allowed the company to overbill the U.S. government.
Vice Adm. Ted “Twig” Branch, the Navy’s former intelligence chief, served for more than two years without his security clearance before finally retiring in October. He has not been charged with any crime in connection with the case, but was unable to advance any farther in the service.
3. Marine veterans sentenced for beating man who had an affair with one of their wives
In August, readers gravitated toward a story exploring how three Marines ganged up on another man after one of their wives kissed him while her husband was away on deployment. The beating caused an orbital bone fracture, significant bruising and, eventually, kidney failure.
Prosecutor Brad Taconi characterized the decision to beat the man as “stupid,” but the attorneys for one of the Marines looked at things differently.
“From one perspective, this man got what was coming to him,” said the lawyer, H.A. Sala. “He knew he was having an affair with the wife of a Marine who was deployed fighting for his country overseas.”
2. Iran holds 10 U.S. sailors after they stray into Iranian territorial waters
In January, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards detained 10 U.S. Navy personnel at gunpoint, sparking a brief crisis until the sailors were released and fodder about Iran that Trump used for months while campaigning for president.
Iran angered senior U.S. officials after Tehran repeatedly distributed photos and videos of the incident. A Navy investigation ultimately found that the sailors were poorly led and made multiple mistakes, but that the Revolutionary Guard members were aggressive and acted outside international law.
Trump said shortly after the incident that the sailors “went through hell” and said months later that if Iranian ships harassed American vessels, he would have them attacked.
1. ‘They put us through hell.’ A Marine abused at boot camp explains why he spoke out.
The most-read story on Checkpoint in 2016 was a profile of former Pvt. Thomas Jacob Weaver, who became the first Marine recruit to step forward with allegations of abuse at Parris Island that eventually spawned the biggest investigation there in decades.
Weaver spoke up after suffering a breakdown that led to him being hospitalized with suicidal thoughts, he said. He refused to continue training and was sent home with an “other-than-honorable” discharge, according to military documents.
“It was terrifying at times,” Weaver said of his boot-camp experience. “There are countless times where I experienced hazing from our drill instructors, and there was abuse going on in the company. It wasn’t just one period of boot camp — it was the whole three months of it.”
Marine officials have said that abuse at boot camp is not tolerated. Several senior leaders at Parris Island have since been removed, and courts-martial are expected for some of those involved in 2017.